Stan Thompson

Stan Thompson

   We were not blessed with kids but I often try to see the world through the eyes of those who are. I listen carefully to notice what suppositions people seem to have about their grandkids’ grandkids’ world.             

Over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that, if they have any such notions, folks keep them to themselves. My best guess is that generations beyond our personal life span don’t get a lot of attention, even by people who have been stellar parents and dote on their grandkids. When I was in grade school, I had no clear notion of adulthood. That was in the 1950s —the ramping-up time of the Cold War. Looking back, I think kids, deep down, didn’t count on ever becoming middle-aged. (From a grade-schooler’s perspective, middle-age was thirty-something.) That I might not necessarily grow up was baked into the times.

We didn’t fret about The Bomb or discuss it much but “megatons” and “fall-out” were commonplace terms in the news. Nuclear weapons testing had lofted “hot” dust into the air we breathed. Once I found a strange weed in our back yard; it had five parallel, attached stalks.          

 Like climate today, nuclear war was then a background noise notion — always in the news but seldom, in my age group, mentioned except when we bicycled past someone installing a fallout shelter behind a house. For a little while there was interest, among those who could afford one, in fall-out shelters — little subterranean family habitats stocked with non-perishable foodstuffs and fitted with filtered ventilators that poked above the ground. In college I once wrote a column on fall-out shelters in the school paper. It was about their futility — “What to Do If You’re Left Outside.” My readers were counseled to be good sports and not drop smelly things down their neighbor’s vent pipes. 

Eventually, contemplating what one (and one’s family) would — if they survived — encounter on emerging probably played a role in scarring both sides back from the brink. In that sense, thinking about tomorrow may have had an immediate preservative effect. A few years later, Alvin and Heidi Toffler — futurists — wrote a book called “Future Shock”. It described society’s reaction to accelerating change. Compared to today, the Tofflers’ world was almost a slow, comical, stop-motion existence. With the world’s knowledge on our iPhones, we may have become so confident of our ability to adapt rapidly that we suppose we can outrun whatever change the future may fling at us. There’s an app for everything. 

In 1968, a cluster of scholars, retired and active heads of state and other luminaries, formed The Club of Rome. Thinking about tomorrow, they prepared a book called “The Limits to Growth”. In it, they observed how fast population had grown, was growing and where it was headed. Their vision was not unlike our current concern with the carbon economy and their critics were not unlike the climate deniers of today. Some dismiss The Club of Rome’s dark predictions as a quaint appurtenance of “the 60s.”  We’re still here; no apocalypse.          

But this view reminds me of the man heard shouting “so far, so good!” he fell past the third-story window. pundits have mentioned that this is the “century of migration.” Climate change scenarios don’t necessarily harm all geographies; Russia, for example, might become more temperate. But what if California burns up and much of the USA becomes drought-ridden? Could Canadians someday feel compelled to string a really long Trump-quality wall from Vancouver to Halifax? (Or, if we overcompensate and the ice age cometh, will Mexico wish they had paid for a wall?)

Who, today, owns the good land a hundred years from now? Who will have to move and who will be defending home turf? Your great grandkids, in either case. If it does not yet exist, the know-how is within reach to monitor television news viewership in real-time and adjust content to optimize for advertising revenue. Is the right to do that protected by the First Amendment? Where will it lead in five generations? When mathematical chaos theory first emerged, one striking example that caught the public’s imagination was that a butterfly flapping its wings in the South Pacific might trigger an Atlantic hurricane.

The encroachment of content profitability on the body politics right to know could have an enormous effect on our great, great grandkids’ lives, liberties and their pursuit of happiness. The effect on the climate’s future of what we do today gets a lot of press. Our actions, or failures to act, to safeguard liberty over the very long run, deserves comparable attention. Mooresville’s Stan Thompson is a retired strategic planner and environmental and transportation futurist for AT&T. HEmail him at or via Twitter at @mediarethink.        

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